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Tigers designate Valverde for assignment

Club hopes that struggling closer will agree to go to Triple-A Toledo

DETROIT -- After manager Jim Leyland announced Thursday that Joaquin Benoit would pitch the ninth inning when "healthy and available," the Tigers designated Jose Valverde for assignment Friday.

Valverde has struggled in his last eight outings, allowing 11 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings with two blown saves. In the ninth inning Wednesday against the Orioles in a non-save situation, he gave up four earned runs on 10 pitches.

"I think the reality is that we didn't really think he would hit this point, but he did," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's struggled, and sometimes when you get in a struggle and you get in a downward spiral, you can't get out of it. I think that's where he is right now, and we think that hopefully we can help him get out of it at the Triple-A level, but it would be difficult to do here right now."

The Tigers have 10 days to either trade Valverde, release him or outright him to the Minor Leagues. Valverde would have to clear waivers and accept an assignment in order to be outrighted.

Most of Valverde's problems begin with his splitter. In his first 12 appearances this season, he didn't allow a hit on a splitter. Afterwards, he's allowed six home runs against his offspeed pitch, according to ESPN Sports and Information.

"[If he goes to Triple-A Toledo], we'll take a look at his velocity and the movement on his pitches, command on his pitches and his ability to throw a split-finger, which when we first brought him back we thought was very important for him having," Dombrowski said. "He really has struggled with that."

Dombrowski said the team needs to have relievers who can go longer than one inning before the ninth. Without having the option to pitch Valverde earlier in games, the Tigers were left with no choice but to try to send him to the Minor Leagues.

"We think we have a guy that can still close games for us, if we get him fixed," Dombrowski said. "His velocity has been fine, of course he has had command problems. The last couple weeks haven't been good. Before that, he threw the ball fine, and that's why we're hoping we can get him back. We figure we have nothing to lose if we try."

The Tigers signed Valverde as a free agent on April 4 before bringing him up to the Majors on April 24. He had a 0.75 ERA in his first 12 appearances.

Detroit recalled right-handed reliever Al Alburquerque, who has been in the Minors since May 16 after struggling with his command earlier this season, from Triple-A Toledo. Alburquerque has walked 13 batters in 14 1/3 innings at Toledo while striking out 27 and holding hitters to a .176 batting average.

Valverde hasn't declined a move to the Minors but said he had to give it some time to think it over.

If Valverde accepts his assignment, his contract wouldn't be voided, and he still will have an opportunity to reach his contract incentives. He's made 18 appearances this season, and his contract incentives kick in at 25, with $500,000 each at the 25th, 30th, 35th, 40th, 45th and 50th game finished.

"Our goal, if he did accept it, wouldn't be to keep him there for an extended time," Dombrowski said. "It would be more of a matter of trying to get him fixed, and see if we can get him back to throwing the ball well and trying to get him back here."

Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for
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